Underground since ’20s, flood brings Brewery Creek to lightWhether it’s 1972 or 2012, Brewery Creek has been fully capable of showing its power despite being relegated to underground status along Duluth’s hillside since the 1920s.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Whether it’s 1972 or 2012, Brewery Creek has been fully capable of showing its power despite being relegated to underground status along Duluth’s hillside since the 1920s.
In 1972, it got dammed up above Eighth Street, where it first goes into the ground at Sixth Avenue. Water spilled up and onto Sixth and decimated its surface and eroded its gutters.
This year, the damage was farther down.
It runs underground between Last Chance Liquor and the Village Place apartment building off Sixth Avenue. It goes under Fourth Street and the Whole Foods Co-op. That’s where the trouble began last week.
The basement at Last Chance, which served as a wine cellar, was completely filled with water Wednesday, and its owners feared Friday they may lose the building. Only one chiller was working, but the store was still open for business.
Katie Katoski is upset that years of scolding the city about water leaks in the basement went unheeded after the underground route of the creek was changed during construction of the apartment complex up the hill behind the store.
The business didn’t suffer flood damage, Katoski said. “We have a Duluth city system failure.”
The basement was flooded in 1972 but, like many cases found in both disasters, the water rushed away quickly. Last week was a slow seep from below the basement floor Katoski said.
“In 1972, it kept going,” she said. “Here, it just sat.”
But the creek exploded underneath the Whole Foods parking lot, taking out its retaining wall and sending a cascade of sand and block into the alley and beyond.
“We call it Brewery Creek falls now,” Whole Foods general manager Sharon Murphy said.
When Whole Foods purchased the site in 2005, it knew it would be putting its parking lot over the creek. Murphy said they were sure it would hold up since the House of Donuts had stood in that spot for many years.
The city reported that a repair made this spring under Fourth Street was successful and didn’t have an effect on the creek blowing out of its culvert just yards away.
Murphy said the store will wing it when it comes to parking the next few months. The priority for the city will be fixing the alley, Murphy said.
Whole Foods customers were excited this spring to see an expansion of parking at the store as a former bank building was taken down and a matching retaining wall went up. With parking often a tight squeeze, Murphy is banking on loyal customers to keep coming.
“The new section was also compromised,” she said.
Brewery Creek has a western branch that starts in a wetland near the Taco Bell on Central Entrance, historian Nancy Wilson wrote in a story in the Hillsider newspaper in 2006. An eastern branch joins up with the other near Marshall School. It crosses under Rice Lake Road and goes underground behind where a tattoo shop can be found today.
Wilson said Friday the tattoo shop was a gas station in 1972, and that is where the dam formed.
The creek then moves diagonally through the hillside, ending up spilling into Lake Superior near Sir Benedict’s Tavern.
For years, in the early history of Duluth, Brewery Creek was a garbage dumping ground and sewer. Every year, into the 1920s, complaints were made about its smell, and the city wrangled with how to deal with it. Eventually, the creek was completely covered by streets and buildings and funneled through concrete and brick tunnels.
Each time big storms cause a breach and damage, Wilson said, the city considers the need to re-engineer Brewery Creek.
“We need to think more about where we build,” she said, reminding that a gas station sits directly over the creek today.
Murphy at Whole Foods said she’s on a committee focused on making the Hillside a more walkable, human-scale area. One idea was to set Brewery Creek free from its underground bounds.
But after seeing the camera footage of the retaining wall falling into the ally — the power of the water — she took pause.
“Might want to rethink that,” she said.